Edinburgh Zoo is in negotiations to bring a pair of giant pandas from China to Scotland.
Zoo representatives recently returned from China, where they signed a letter of intent signifying a commitment to bring giant pandas to Edinburgh.
It has been proposed that a breeding pair would be on loan to the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) for 10 years.
It is hoped they would give birth to cubs during that time.
Edinburgh would be only the eighth zoo in the Western hemisphere to care for the species if the project goes ahead.
Zoo chiefs said that looking after the endangered animals could benefit conservation.
David Windmill, chief executive of RZSS, said: "Working with giant pandas means so much more to us than introducing a new species to our collection.
"It is an opportunity to work on a global level with other conservationists to gain a better understanding of the giant panda, the threats they face, and what we can do to ensure their survival."
Edinburgh would be only the eighth Western zoo to care for the species
There are currently only around 1,500 giant pandas in the wild.
RZSS has been working on the project for almost a year, and hopes to have giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo by 2009, the year of the society's centenary.
Mr Windmill said that the project has received strong support from the UK and Scottish Governments and that this must continue if the zoo is to reach an agreement with the Chinese.
As part of the proposed agreement with the Chinese government, Edinburgh Zoo will collaborate on research projects benefiting conservation in the wild.
RZSS will also provide substantial funding to support giant panda conservation projects in the wild. Giant pandas live in a few mountain ranges in central China and feed almost exclusively on bamboo, which makes up 99% of their diet.
BBC NEWS | Scotland | Edinburgh, East and Fife | Giant panda hope for Scottish zoo